Doctor Who blogging: “The Angels Take Manhattan”
(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Power of Three”)
(get my downloadable discussion guide to “The Angels Take Manhattan” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)
I am going to flatter myself and call my guess that the Ponds were going to die about 80 percent correct.
Amy and Rory may not die right in front of the Doctor, but they are, in a flash, as dead to him as if he had seen it happen.
How Steven Moffat got here, though, is so very contrived. Once again, he painted himself in a corner that it was tough to get out of without cheating. Well, okay: he didn’t do all the painting on his own. The TARDIS, as a narrative device, is so very powerful — too powerful, sometimes, which can really ruin a story. Twice here Amy says, “Well, let’s just pop back in the TARDIS to retrieve Angel-zapped Rory,” which would normally be exactly the thing to do. But there’d be no story if that were possible, so Moffat pulls a temporal distortion outta here and scrambled timelines out of there and slaps a paradox on top and presto bingo, brokenhearted Time Lord.
Moffat inherited the TARDIS, but he alone is responsible for a companion who seems constitutionally incapable of making a decision about leaving the Doctor, and for a Doctor who seems inexplicably overly attached to his friend in a way we’ve never seen before. So Moffat had to come up with a way to separate them forever. Perhaps whatever solution Moffat invented would feel contrived. But nearly everything hear feels slapped together, with so many elements present in the story only because if they weren’t, there would be no story, but which don’t hold up in any sense at all on their own. And when lashed together, it doesn’t even have the structural integrity of a house of cards.
For starters, literally: there is the PI in the beginning of the episode, Garner, who’s hired by Rich Collector Guy to investigate the Angels. He is clearly meant to be a character in the Melody Malone book written by River that the Doctor is reading in Central Park — the fingers punching out the tale on the typewriter fading in and out of Garner’s story make this indisputable. Also, he’s Chapter One:
Maybe Garner is a “real” person (though then how did River know about him?) or maybe he’s just a character River invented for the book: either way, the Doctor was reading about “living statues that moved in the dark.” Wouldn’t he have realized he was reading about the Weeping Angels?
Maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe he did realize and shrugged it off. Maybe he reads novels about Daleks, too.
The Angels own an apartment building in Manhattan? How does that work? Do they have human agents who handle all the real-estate stuff, and all the taking care of the people who are locked in the building for 60 years stuff? (Those people have to eat, don’t they?) How do the Angels communicate with those human agents? How could no one notice that people are living in that building but never come outside?
Maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe that’s just something we have to suspend our disbelief about.
“The city that never sleeps” is ideal hunting ground for creatures who can move only when no one is watching them? How does that work? The Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel? How does that work? Even if there are some brief moments when no one is looking at the very large, very prominent, very famous landmark in very busy New York harbor, which is overlooked from all sides by big apartment buildings occupied by the denizens of a city that never sleeps, surely a few people will eventually notice that the Statue has left its plinth and is now frozen in the middle of a Manhattan street?
Maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe I’m overthinking this.
What is River doing in 1938? Why has she set herself up as a detective who investigates Angels, one so renowned that Rich Collector Guy has to have her kidnapped in order to get her attention? (Couldn’t Rich Collector Guy just have hired her in the usual way, like he did with Garner, assuming Garner was real?)
Maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe we have to just accept some stuff as given.
How does River get her manuscript for the Melody Malone book to Amy? Couldn’t River visit with her vortex manipulator, “less bulky than a TARDIS, a motorbike through traffic”? Couldn’t the Doctor go with River that way?
Maybe that’s not a big deal.
But all these things thrown together in one 45-minute story? That’s a big deal.
I love Doctor Who, and I love all the ’shipping here, which is — I know, I know! — what this episode is all about. But it needs to happen in the context of a story that’s remotely plausible. This is Doctor Who! There’s so much room for telling new sorts of stories that blow your mind a little that there’s no reason to throw stuff together “just because” you need them for your story. And just because this is Doctor Who doesn’t mean you can get away with this.
Sure, this is creepy:
But it stops being creepy pretty quickly when you realize how none of what surrounds it is even slightly convincing. Creepy does not happen in a vacuum.
So, I’m hugely disappointed on that level. And then I am also hugely disappointed for New York City. It was pretty clear from the get-go that a realistic representation of New York’s geography was not going to be in the cards, for the notion that the Chrysler Building looms over Battery Park is laughable. And I suppose there was some sort of wormhole that allowed the Doctor and Amy to travel from Times Square in midtown Manhattan
to Brooklyn across from lower Manhattan
in the space of a breath between words, midsentence.
But neither of those is really the problem (though they irk me as a New Yorker). No, the problem is: this story did not need to be shot in NYC. They wasted their trip across the Atlantic on an episode that could have easily been shot in Cardiff. Indeed, most of the key action was shot in Cardiff, and nothing vital happens in the bits that are most spectacularly NYCish.
These are nice images, and the second one especially has a real aura of New York about it, of how lonely the city can be. But it only underscores how little advantage they took of a fantastic opportunity to capture the Doctor in this amazing place. I could rattle off a dozen story ideas that would feel like Doctor Who and feel like New York at the same time. (I won’t, because maybe I’ll have the chance to do something with them someday.) I’m really astonished at how Moffat blew this.
Random thoughts on “The Angels Take Manhattan”:
• Statue of Liberty credits:
• Ah, now it all makes sense! This is happening in a parallel universe in which the laws of storytelling physics are different. We know this because
the Detroit Lions do not win Super Bowls. Ever.
• “Oh, you know, texting a boy”:
• There’s a Rolls Royce engine under the TARDIS console?
• Awwww! The Doctor is suddenly preening himself at the prospect of seeing River?
My fangirl ’shipper heart is happy.
• Oh, and hey: River has been pardoned because the Doctor no longer exists, at least not in databases and such. Imagine the surprise of the keepers of Stormcage discovering they’ve got a prisoner who’s been convicted of killing someone who never existed. (This is the way to paint yourself out of a corner! Now we just need to know who brought the case against River in the first place…)
• The Doctor is now very sad.
The Doctor is most interesting when he’s sad. I hope this bodes well for the rest of the season.
• Sad, and with brainy specs?
All right already, I give in: I’m in love with Matt Smith’s Doctor!
• Great quotes:
“Only you could fancy someone in a book.” –Rory, to the Doctor (alas, poor Rory: he never fancied anyone in a book!)
“Didn’t you used to be somebody?” –River, to the Doctor
“When one’s in love with an ageless god who insists on the face of a 12-year-old, one does one’s best to hide the damage.” –River, to the Doctor
“It would be almost impossible…” –the Doctor
“Loving the almost…” –River
“One psychopath per TARDIS, don’t you think? –River, refusing to travel with the Doctor on a permanent basis (ouch)
(next: “The Snowmen”)